multiracial family man

I was delighted to be interviewed by comedian Alex Barnett for his Multiracial Family Man podcast. I met Alex and his wife during the Katie Couric debacle of 2014. Not only do I like them because they are cool, funny people, but they remind me of my family of origin. That doesn’t happen all that often.

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I think we had a great conversation about race, interracial relationships, and the ever evolving multiracial experience.

You can CHECK it out here:

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/c/5/3/c53470bfd6efc2e8/MFM_-_Tiffany_Jones_revised.mp3?c_id=8514010&expiration=1425994502&hwt=0a2cd49d00972f9ce2f6ffb01e43f568

or here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/multiracial-family-man-ep./id969793342?i=337179665&mt=2

mr family man logo

And if you want more Alex Barnett, here’s a link to his website where you can read his blog posts and enjoy his stand-up: http://www.alexbarnettcomic.com.

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you don’t even know me

I posted this video on the vlog the other day…

…and then I found this clip of Tia/Tamera’s brother, Taj, addressing the same issue.  And i love it!  Makes me wonder if males are less sensitive to these things.  I mean, I already wondered that, but now i re-wonder.  Skip to 4:00 to catch the clip…

 

 

 

race manners

Since I’ve been back on the blog, I have said very little about the so-called biracial experience.  It amazes me that it’s still easier, even for me with all of my good “mixed” intentions, to talk about black and white.  I forgive myself for this because without the black and white there is no mixed.  Without the baggage of white vs. black stuff, there is no need for the mixed discussion.  So, I suppose it’s only natural.  It is little disappointing personally that the middle ground isn’t where the conversation begins for me.  It’s on the ends of the spectrum.  But I also suppose that this is natural.  I suppose this has been the disappointment of my life.  And I suppose that this is how we get to the middle ground.  By exploring the ends and inching toward the middle.

A couple of things in Jenee Harris’ article jumped out at me:

1. “My white mother has developed an acute sensitivity to the subtle ways prejudice and bigotry pop up in daily life.”- 

I wonder if my father would say he has developed the same.  I think so…I think that happened when he entered into a relationship with my (black) mother and grew deeper as he witnessed my experience… but we never talk about it…

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me with my parents:)

2. “Well-intended”– re: “adults loved to tell me that people paid “good money” for hair like mine (think 1980s-era perms on white women)” and “A friend got the biscuit analogy…: God burned black people and undercooked white people, but removed her from the heavenly oven at the perfect moment.”

Well…if the intention of the (white) person who said this is to make the biracial person feel better about the perceived plight of their kind…well…i guess one could count that as a good or harmless intention. But I think that summation signifies complacence.  I, however, have to challenge this notion.  You see, giver of said “compliment,” in your quest to make me feel better about being my invisible, displaced, misunderstood, marginalized and tragic self you put me on the receiving end of your pity, your assumptions and judgements.  I do believe this is usually unconscious.  I also must acknowledge that it is an assumption I’m making. Yet there’s a reason that I assume that this is the intention behind the compliments.  The assumption is based on experience, but even those are dangerous to make. It’s the tone with which these comments are usually, subtly uttered.  If you’ve been the biracial person in this kind of conversation, I think you know what I mean.

When I engage in this kind of innocent interaction I can be left feeling frustrated, upset, and worst of all unseen.  It is depressing.  It is literally a depression of my spirit.  Of my freedom.  A depression of my freedom to just be and simply experience this life without being saddled with the weight of the stigma of a couple hundred years of prejudice, condemnation, fear, greed, inferiority, superiority, discrimination, and antagonism.  My take on it is that some people assuage a fleeting feeling of guilt over the fact that this is the biracial’s lot in life by reminding us (and/or reminding themselves) that I should be happy because I have good hair and tan skin which, I infer from your comments, should make up for the fact that on the whole the society we live in cannot acknowledge or understand how I exist.  I thought there was more to that sentence, but I think that’s it.  Our nation’s identity continues to be wrapped up in race and all the baggage that comes with it.  For that to remain intact, biracial just can’t really be.  I don’t think that needs to remain intact.  I think things are shifting.  So slowly.  But they are shifting and I hope I stay awake enough to the shift to feel when my assumptions based on past experience are truly no longer valid.

On the other hand, I’m fairly certain that most of my response falls into the category of  “Oh, come on, stop being so sensitive.

Or am I just being truthful?  That’s the stuff that this brought up for me.

Biracial Children: Racism Advice for White Parents

Race Manners: Comments about the superior beauty of your biracial child aren’t just weird — they’re troubling.

By Jenée Desmond-Harris

Updated Monday April 8, 2013

The Root —

“I’m a Caucasian woman with a biracial child (her father is black). I live in a predominantly white community. Why is it that whenever people discover that I have a ‘mixed’ child, they always say things like, ‘Oh, he/she must be so cute/gorgeous/adorable, those kids are always the best looking. You are so lucky.’ 

I know they mean well, but it seems off to me, and maybe racist. Do they mean compared to ‘real’ black children? When a German and Italian or an Asian and Jewish person have a child, black people don’t say, ‘Mixed children like yours are always the best looking.’ (Plus, it’s not true — not all black-white biracial kids are the ‘best looking.’)

Am I being overly sensitive by feeling there’s something off about these comments? If not, what’s the best way to respond?”

I chose this question for the first installment of Race Manners, The Root‘s new advice column on racial etiquette and ethics, because it hits close to home. Like your daughter, I’m biracial. Like you, my white mother has developed an acute sensitivity to the subtle ways prejudice and bigotry pop up in daily life. I should know. She calls me to file what I’ve deemed her “racism reports.”

And let’s be clear. Americans of all races say bizarre things to and about mixed people, who can inspire some of the most revealing remarks about our black-white baggage. Just think of the public debates about how MSNBC’s Karen Finney, and even President Obama, should be allowed to identify.

But the comments in your question often come from a good place, and they’re often said with a smile. When I was a child, adults loved to tell me that people paid “good money” for hair like mine (think 1980s-era perms on white women) and for tanning beds (again, it was the ’80s and ’90s) to achieve my skin color. Thus, the grown-up argument went, I should be happy (even if these trends didn’t stop people from petting my curls as if I were an exotic poodle, nor did they give me the straight blond hair I envied, and it’s not as if I was on the receiving end of the beauty-shop payments).

A friend got the biscuit analogy. Wait for it: God burned black people and undercooked white people, but removed her from the heavenly oven at the perfect moment, she was told.

Awkward. Well-intended. Poorly thought-through. A window into our shared cultural stuff about identity. These statements are all these things at once.

That’s another reason I selected your question. When it comes to remarks that are so obviously dead-wrong to some of us, and so clearly innocuous to others, there’s often little energy for or interest in breaking down the explanation that lies between “Ugh, so ignorant!” and “Oh, come on, stop being so sensitive.”

I’ll try it out here.

You’re right to be bothered by the remarks from the Biracial Babies Fan Club. Here’s why: These people aren’t pulling an arbitrary appreciation for almond-colored skin and curls from the ether. Instead — even if they are not aware of this — they’re both reflecting and perpetuating troubling beliefs that are bigger than their individual tastes. Specifically, while “mixed kids are the cutest” is evenhanded on its face, treating both black and white (and all other ethnic groups) as inferior to your daughter, I hear it as anti-black.

As Marcia Dawkins, the author of Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity, told me, “The myth that mixed-race offspring are somehow better than nonmixed offspring is an example of ‘hybrid vigor,’ an evolutionary theory which states that the progeny of diverse varieties within a species tend to exhibit better physical and psychological characteristics than either one or both of the parents.”

mixie girl

And just take a wild guess how this idea has popped up for black people. You got it: In order to demean and oppress African Americans, thought leaders throughout history, including the likes of Thomas Jefferson, have said that black-white mixed offspring are better, more attractive, smarter, etc., than “real” blacks and not as good or attractive or smart as “real” whites, Dawkins explains.

So alleging that mixed kids are the best of anything sounds different when you consider that we’ve long put a wholesale premium on all that’s whiter and brighter.

Nowhere is that premium more stubbornly applied today than when it comes to the topic at the center of your question — beauty and attractiveness. In recent memory, we had to re-litigate the harms of colorism when Zoe Saldana was cast to play the lead in a Nina Simone biopic. Tamar Braxton and India.Arie have both been accused of bleaching skin — as if that would be a reasonable thing to do.

A writer lamented in a personal essay for xoJane that she was sick and tired of being complimented for what black men viewed as her “mixed” or “exotic” (read: nonblack) physical features. (As far as I know, “you look a little black” is not a common line of praise among other groups.) Black girls still pick the white dolls in recreated Kenneth Clark experiments. Harlem moms can’t get Barbie birthday decorations in the color of their little princesses. We treated rapper Kendrick Lamar like the department store that featured a wheelchair-bound model in an ad campaign when he cast a dark-skinned woman as a music-video love interest.

Against this backdrop of painful beliefs that people of all colors buy into, yes, “Mixed kids are the cutest” should sound “off.”

As the mom of a mixed kid, you signed up for more than just the task of venturing into the “ethnic” aisle of the drugstore and learning about leave-in conditioner. You took on the work of hearing things like this through the ears of your daughter, and you agreed to have a stake in addressing racism. The fact that these comments bothered you means you’re on the job.

So if it’s at all possible, you should explain everything I’ve said above to people who announce that your daughter is gorgeous based on racial pedigree alone. If you’re shorter on time or familiarity, you could try a reminder that there’s really no such thing as genetic purity in the first place (“Great news, if that’s true, since most of us — including you — are mixed”). As an alternative, the old cocked-head, confused look, combined with “What makes you say that?” always puts the onus back on the speaker to think about what he or she is really saying.

Finally, just a simple, “Thanks, I think she’s beautiful, but I don’t like the implication that it’s because of her ethnic makeup,” could open up an important introductory conversation about why comments about superior biracial beauty aren’t true and aren’t flattering, and why the beliefs they reflect aren’t at all “cute.”

before this hurts too much

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

The Root‘s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America.

re: previous posts

I’ve been meaning to post these things that have some correlation to a few of the week’s previous posts.  So now I’m doing it.

  • I think Philippa Schuyler and George Bridgetower help to disprove the theory that they were trying to disprove in this ad:

  • When I read about Stacey Bush,the white girl who (along with her biracial sister) was adopted by a black woman and is now on a multicultural scholarship, I thought of the mistake that Crayola made when naming this pack of crayons.  Maybe Stacey could explain to Crayola the difference between race and culture.  Throw in ethnicity and nationality too because a lot of people don’t seem to understand that those words are not synonyms:

  • This one goes along with the whole darn blog and it made me smile, so:

a new biracial children’s book

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Though the Newsday reviewer doubts that mixed race kids wonder about the racial features of their soon-to-arrive siblings, I don’t.  Since my “Heidi and Seal” post, I’ve wondered how little Leni will react to her new sister who will likely be brown like her brothers.  I imagine that right now she might think that boys look like the dad and girls look like the mom.  Since their new baby is said to be a girl, that theory (should it really exist in her mind and not just mine) could be blown out of the water.  

Regardless of any of that, I’m so glad to know that this book exists and hope more like it will follow.

review taken from http://www.newsday.com/features/booksmags/ny-bkend0712810377jun01,0,2983687.story

I’M YOUR PEANUT BUTTER BIG BROTHER, by Selina Alko. Knopf, $16.99. Ages 4-8. 

Books that address issues in an obvious way can be a bore, but since books are a useful way to address issues, parents, teachers and librarians are constantly on the lookout for good ones. In Selina Alko’s “I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother,” a child in a biracial family wonders what the new baby will look like. The whimsical elaboration of possibilities makes this the rare “issues-book” you’d want to snuggle up and read with your kids. 

“Baby, will your hair look like mine?” the boy asks. He considers the range of hair in his family: “Noel’s string beans locked this way and that, or Akira’s puffy broccoli florets? Maybe, like Auntie Angela, your mushroom bob will wave neatly in half-moon curls. Feathers might hang from a round coconut face. Or, like Grandma Helen, will sharp blades of grass stick straight up?” 

Certainly no two parents, of the same race or not, look precisely alike, and I doubt that children are considering racial features when they wonder: “Baby brother or sister, will you look like me?” But in a world where skin tone, hair texture and eye shape carry social complexity, this book offers a welcome alternative vocabulary.

By Sonja Bolle

haters

aunizvpxmm6y1kglcz75ysrho1_400 I’ve gotten some new haters on youtube in the last few days.  I feel two ways about this: 1) irritated, 2) pleased.  There I go being a constant contradiction again, which I’m beginning to think just goes along with being black and white in America.  The general notion is that the two are so different and don’t mix, and here I (we) am (are) going around being both simultaneously.  I’m bound to contradict myself a lot while holding two things equally relevant, valid, important, impactful, etc.  Anyway, I was feeling kind of neglected by the haters.  They challenge me, they teach me, they send me new viewers.  Some of these haters call me a tragic mulatto. Others say that “biracial” doesn’t exist.  Some say I’m ugly and stupid.  I never even contemplate letting them get under my skin.  They certainly can ruffle my feathers, I’m only human after all, but that’s surface stuff.  Mostly they strengthen my passionate desire to answer the call to:

 

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to let others know that

 

 

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and that

 

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but ultimately, haters (who are probably not reading this)

 

 

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jalopies

I’ve never heard this one before…..

Half Black Geese

Monday, Jun. 28, 1937

Sirs:

Relative your article TIME, June 7 on the word “jalopy” and Webster R. Kent’s comments (TIME, June 21), I think you are both in error. Approximately ten years ago while in a Los Angeles café with the late Herbert Somborn, ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, approximately eight mulatto dancing girls appeared. Mr. Somborn exclaimed: “What beautiful jalopies!” Pressing him for information, he stated that a jalopy was anything half black and that the word originated in a certain part of Africa, where plurals are unknown, and a jalopy is a African half black geese.

weheartit.com

In case you hadn’t noticed, I spend a lot of time surfing the internets and I easily become addicted to entertaining websites. Thank goodness the addictions are usually short-lived.  Here’s the latest: http://weheartit.com/.  I’m still not exactly sure how it works just yet, but there are SO many fun things to look at.  This is the first picture I saw on there…

snow white wardrobeIt was love at first sight! I have a little confession to make…. I LOVE Snow White!! She’s my favorite Disney character. It’s always felt a little “wrong” for me as a (formerly) one-dropped biracial girl to love someone named Snow White. Identity issues much? I don’t think so, but I assumed everyone else would.

Halle Berry 17 years ago

It’s hard to believe that Halle Berry’s been on my radar screen for about 20 years now.  I have lots of respect for her, so I am in no way picking on her (or her mother) by questioning some of the things she said in this article from Ebony magazine in 1992. I wonder if she still feels the same way today. I wonder if Nahla has had an impact on Halle’s concept of black, white, and biracial. I wonder if I’ll ever get to have a conversation with her about it!

Norment, Lynn. “Halle Barry: strictly business about show business.” Ebony. 1992

Confronting life’s obstacles is nothing new for Berry, who overcame the potentially damaging problem of being born to a Black father and White mother in a racist society.

Berry’s father left when Halle was 4, and she and her sister, Heidi, were raised by her mother, Judith. Race was never a problem, Berry says, growing up in Cleveland’s inner-city neighborhoods. All that changed when they moved to a racially mixed suburb and young Halle began hearing the taunts–“half-breed,” “mulatto” and “Oreo cookie”–and wondered what it all meant.

Judith Berry didn’t mince words.

“I’m White, and you are Black,” was her mother’s explanation. “Sure I can say that I’m biracial and technically I am,” says Halle, “but, as my mother said to me: ‘What do you see when you look in the mirror? You see what everyone else sees. They don’t know who your mother is, and they aren’t going to care.””

Since that conversation, Berry has called herself Black and now sees benefits from both of her heritages. She has little sympathy, she says, for individuals who use their biracial backgrounds as excuses for their troubles.

“I think the problems are made worse when people get on talk shows and make statements like, ‘I had a hard time because I was caught in the middle,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be that way. I think being biracial is one of the best things in the world.”

Norment, Lynn. “Halle Barry: strictly business about show business.” Ebony. 1992

I don’t really appreciate the “potentially damaging problem of being born to a Black father and White mother” statement. To me it seems like Norment had “tragic mulatto” on her mind when she wrote this.  When I look at that picture of Halle Berry and her mother, I can see the resemblance. I wonder if what other people see and care about still matters more to people than what they as an individual see and care about in terms of their own sense of self. I mean, my retort would be “when I look in the mirror I see you somewhere in my reflection, and why should I not care who my mother is because ‘they’ won’t?”

symmetry

I came across this article a while ago and have been thinking about it a lot since that “Plight of Mixed-Race Children” post a few days ago. I am generally still offended by that Freakonomics blog article, but maybe it’s a harsh reality that I don’t want to acknowledge. The study Levitt spoke of did have just over 90,000 participants. The “more attractive” thing really stuck out to me as being inappropriate.  Then I remembered reading about this UCLA study…

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11-05-2002

(Daily Bruin) (U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — A recent study by University of California — Los Angeles Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biology Jay Phelan concluded that biracial people are perceived as more attractive than “uniracial” people because they have more symmetric features. 

Symmetry, according to Phelan, reflects an organism’s developmental stability and is strongly associated with longevity, health and fitness….

Symmetry, he found, was greater in heterozygous organisms. In other words, organisms are more symmetrical – and therefore potentially more “fit” – when their genes have two different alleles (for instance, one dominant allele and one recessive allele rather than two dominant or two recessive alleles). 

Crossing organisms from different populations, he believed, would result in “hybrid vigor.” The theory was that their heterozygosity was making them stronger and healthier. 

Genes produce enzymes that assist in bodily processes. When two slightly different enzymes are produced by heterozygous genes, the organism is “covered under a wider range of conditions,” he said. 

Most humans are heterozygous in about 20 percent of their genes. 

Assuming that biracial people are more heterozygous since they come from different populations (despite the debate surrounding the relative amounts of genetic variation within and among populations), Phelan started by measuring the symmetry of 99 UCLA student volunteers who were either biracial or uniracial. 

Biracial people were defined as those whose mother and father were of different races, but each of their parents were uniracial. Both parents of the uniracial subjects were of the same race. 

Phelan’s study concluded that biracial people were significantly more symmetrical than “uniracial” people. All 25 of the least symmetrical subjects were from uniracial groups, which were either Asian, black, Hispanic or white. Seven of the eight most symmetrical subjects were from biracial groups (Hispanic-white, Asian-white, black-white or Asian-Hispanic). 

In addition, Phelan found that symmetry was about the same for all uniracial people no matter which group they were in, and about the same foall biracial people, regardless of racial background. 

Phelan, however, did not want to stop merely with symmetry. He hypothesized that those who were more symmetrical would also be perceived as more attractive. 

To determine attractiveness, 30 people then rated photos of the subjects who had been measured for symmetry on attractiveness, ranking them from one to seven (seven being the highest). 

The results: Biracial people were perceived as significantly more attractive than “uniracial” people. 

Emily Shin, a third-year psychology student and president of the UCLA Hapa Club, appreciates Phelan’s work. 

“I think that it’s really great that people are doing research on hapa people, generally a group that’s marginalized,” Shin said. 

She added, however, that there is some dissent in the hapa community about research like Phelan’s, which perpetuates the stereotype that hapas are on average, more attractive people. 

“It makes hapa people, especially hapa girls, feel very objectified,” Shin added…..

David Zisser. “Study indicates mixed race, physical symmetry correlate.” University Wire. 2002.

I don’t know what I think of all this just yet. Right now I’m thinking, “If a majority of mixed-race children are struggling as Levitt’s article (which i initially brushed off as ridiculous mostly because of the attractiveness issue) suggests, then we need to help them because it doesn’t have to be that way.”